In October and November 2022, I travelled 6,500 kms through Botswana and Namibia in 35 days. We started in Livingstone on 22nd October, travelled through Chobe Riverside, Chobe Savuti, Moremi and the Kgaligadi in Botswana and South Africa, then went to Sossusvlei and to Conception Bay in the Namib desert in Namibia and finally via Fish River Canyon and Namaqua National Park to Cape Town, which we reached on 25th November.
My companion throughout the trip was Annie Cumming. Annie is a Canadian who lives in Turkey. She travelled with Tibby and me and seventeen others in 1979 in an overland truck from London to Kathmandu. We have visited each other over the years and in 2019 had a forty-year reunion of the trip with four others and partners, in South Africa. This photo, taken on the 1979 trip, shows that we were prettier then.
We were joined on this trip for nine days by my cousin, Nick Stodel, as we journeyed from Kasane to Maun. Tibby flew into Walvis Bay to join us on our four-day adventure in the Namib Desert.
Before I left, I was fearful that, travelling so late in the year, the heat might be unbearable and that I might get caught in mud after rains. The temperatures were hot, but not unbearable, with a daily high average of about 34⁰C and occasionally going up to 38⁰C. Nights seldom went below 17⁰C except in the Namib Desert. We caught the first rains of the season in Savuti, the Kgaligadi and in the Namaqua National Park but they were not severe enough to create mud.
My 2010 Toyota Fortuner had done 204,000 kms by the end of this trip. It has never let me down on the road, but this time it did twice, plus there were a few other issues including:
- The clutch plate was replaced
- The left upper control arm ball joint, control arm and stabilizer were replaced
- The air conditioning condenser was first patched and later replaced
- The casing of the rear differential must have hit something and was cracked. It was welded after the trip.
- The wiring from the car to the trailer was ripped apart by high sand in the middle of the track
- Two of the legs holding the roof rack collapsed and were welded
- The handle of the rear door on the trailer almost broke and had to be welded
- The jockey wheel arm bent and was banged straight
- The catch holding one of the spare wheels on the rear bumper failed and we had to ratchet strap the wheel to the roof rack for the rest of the trip
- The rim of one of the car wheels cracked and was welded
- One of the trailer tyres shredded and was replaced
- Three poles in each of the two tents broke
When I quote prices, I use the original currency. At the beginning of my trip the exchange rates to the GB pound were: South African Rand 21.68, Zambian Kwacha 18, Botswana Pula 15.85, Namibian Dollar 21.68 and US$ 1.21. I have used these rates throughout this report, irrespective if rates changed or the actual conversion rates differed.
Day 1 – Livingstone, Zambia
Annie and I had flown overnight from Bodrum, Turkey and London respectively and we met at Johannesburg airport at 09h00 on Saturday 22nd October 2022. We flew together on the 11h00 Airlink flight to Livingstone, Zambia and were met by 34⁰C and Harry, the taxi driver sent by our bed and breakfast, Green Tree Lodge. He told us that everyone was waiting for the rains to arrive, to receive some relief from the suffocating heat. He told us that the flow over the Victoria Falls was so low that all the water was being diverted on the Zambian side to drive the hydroelectric generation plant.
My Toyota Fortuner and Echo 2 trailer had been serviced by Nick Selby of Foleys Africa, which included replacement of the main and secondary batteries in the car. They were waiting for us at Green Tree Lodge. We spent a few hours sorting through and cleaning the kitchen of the trailer and the kitchen equipment. A saga of fridges began with me trying to make both fridges in the car and trailer work, including swapping them, and failing. We went shopping at Shoprite for dry goods, 45 litres of drinking water and four very expensive bottles of red South African wine.
The Royal Livingstone is a luxury hotel, just above the Falls. We had drinks at their open-air bar on the banks of the Zambezi and watched the sun set.
We had a disappointing dinner at The Green Tree Lodge. The Lodge was created by a Briton, Andrew and his Zambian wife, Victoria. I had stayed there before and enjoyed their simple, but good establishment at a reasonable rate. Andrew and Victoria have now separated, and Victoria is now the master of the house. She was absent in Lusaka and so we were greeted by her sister, Florence, who seemed to disappear immediately afterwards. We were largely left in the hands of a sulky 18-year-old who resented us disturbing her weekend. She and an invisible chef took for ever to produce a disappointing meal. We were exhausted after our overnight flights and were desperate to get to bed. The bad experience continued with poor WIFI, noisy day guests and more grumpy service. To their credit they cleaned my shoes and did the laundry of my clothes from the end of my previous trip for a pittance.
Day 2 – Victoria Falls
Our priority today was for Annie to see the Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side. We parked near the Zambian border office, exited Zambia and engaged a taxi driver for US$5 to take us the 1.5 km across the bridge to the Zimbabwean border. Using my South African passport, I did not need a visa, but Annie paid US$50 for an entry visa on her Irish passport.
The 18 viewpoints of the Falls in Zimbabwe have their entrance close to the border and US$20 each gave us access. The Victoria Falls are not like the Niagara Falls which can be seen in one landscape view. The Victoria Falls fall into a gorge so one must walk along the opposite edge of the gorge to see the different falls. At the end of the wet season, in April, the Falls extend as almost a single waterfall about one kilometre long. The spray is so significant that one is walking and viewing in constant rain and only the top of the falls is visible. Now in October, at the end of the dry season, the water throughput is significantly depleted with three separate falls and views of the gorge floor. I prefer the latter view. The walk is far more comfortable with just a light occasional spray. We enjoyed the beauty of the three falls.
The Devil’s Pool is above one of the falls. This is a natural rock pool adjacent to an island, on the edge of the falls, with water cascading down each side of the pool. It must be safe because many people swim there. I would not. Today there was a sizeable group swimming.
I took the obligatory photo of Annie in front of the David Livingstone statue. I have a similar photo of me and my siblings from 1967.
We walked 500 metres to the Lookout Café. When I was last there in 2015 this was a small building with a balcony overlooking a U bend in the gorge below the bridge. In 2018 this was rebuilt into a huge, beautiful dining area with magnificent views over the gorge. Annie and I downed a few ice-cold Zambezi beers and had a light lunch as we watched fools swing and zip line across the gorge.
The day had become very warm, and we were disappointed to find no taxi drivers on the other side of the Zimbabwean border office. A passing local told us that one would soon be along which proved to be the case.
I went to fetch my cousin, Nick, off his Air Kenya flight from Cape Town. I had unfairly asked him to bring a tent from our Cape Town holiday house. The tent bag is 2.5 metres long and weighs 18 kg, so he faced some challenges bringing it with him, the last being the Zambian customs officials who were very dubious.
We attempted to improve our dinner experience by paying a premium to eat on the terrace of the Royal Livingstone Hotel and largely failed.
Day 3 – Livingstone, Zambia via Kasane, Botswana to Ihaha campsite in the Riverfront and Serondella section of Chobe National Park – 86 kms
Nick fiddled with the fridge in the car and to my amazement made it work.
Twenty kilometres up the Zambezi we visited Chundukwa Lodge which our family had visited twice in the late nineties. Our joy had been waking in our room on stilts in the river and watching the river flow past us as the sun rose. The founder and owner since 1992, Doug, welcomed us and arranged for the lodge manager to show us around the refurbished lodge. The rooms and communal area have all been upgraded and are very comfortable but still offer the close view of the Zambezi as one wakes up. They have also added a three-bedroom self-catering house which is an attractive option for a small group or family.
Previously, when I crossed between Zambia, and Botswana at Kazungula, I used the four-car ferry and battled through the mish mash of border buildings. With the help of the Chinese, a magnificent bridge has now been built which whisks one quickly over the river to a one stop building where your paperwork for both Zambia and Botswana are processed in the same large hall, moving in a logical way from counter to counter. Leaving Zambia to go to Botswana is far easier than vice versa but I was still amazed to get through all the border formalities in twenty minutes.
Our first port of call in Kasane was the bigger and better Toyota dealership. They said that their equipment to top up our air conditioning was not working, and that Chobe Refrigeration in the Kazungula Industrial Park could do the job, which they indeed did. The excellent Maun butcher, Beef Boys, has opened a Kazungula branch in the Industrial Park and Annie and Nick soon found what they wanted including biltong and droewors. Across the road is Mr Veg where fruit and vegetables for a month were purchased.
We stopped off at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort and Spa on the river front for a light lunch.
I bought a Botswana sim from Orange.
We entered Chobe National Park – Riverfront and Serondella section at the Sidudu Gate. Almost immediately we came across seven lions resting in the shade and not doing much. There were several lone elephants and at a distance a large herd of buffalo. We rounded a bend and were suddenly in the middle of a large herd of elephants with many babies. They were clearly used to cars and were not unduly alarmed by our presence. There were a lot of boats doing game cruises.
As daylight died, we arrived at Ihaha Campsite and set up camp for the first time. This took some time as we all got used to the equipment. We relaxed around a fire.
Through the night hippos snorted, lions roared, hyenas screamed. Annie did not sleep well.
Day 4- Ihaha Campsite to Savuti – 203 kms
Packing up two tents and a trailer tent takes longer than erecting them. We were pools of sweat by the time we were ready to leave. We followed the Chobe River westwards to the Ngoma Gate without seeing much game. We inflated our tyres at the gate.
We filled up at the last filling station before Maun, at Mabebe, and bought firewood from a roadside vendor.
The tar ended and the road quickly became sandy requiring us to deflate our tyres.
We arrived at Thobolos Lodge for lunch to be met by signs saying ‘No day visitors’. The owner and the manager were out of camp and the receptionist was happy to toast sandwiches for us. The appealing thing about Thobolos is that they have a first-floor viewing lounge over a water hole. I have previously had magnificent sightings here at dusk and dawn. There were few animals around in the heat of the midday except that a baby elephant arrived, drank and left all by himself. It is most unusual for a baby elephant to be away from the herd so there must be a story attached to this one, but we did not hear it.
As we headed towards the Savuti Section of Chobe National Park and then the road from the gate to the camp area, the track was very sandy with a high middle section or ‘middelmannetjie’. The car and trailer were bucking and fighting, and I had a hard time driving. We arrived at the camp to find that the electrical wires connecting the car to the trailer had been torn apart beneath the car.
The ablution block at Savuti has clearly been disturbed many times by elephants and so they have built an impressive wall around it. Our campsite was huge but with very deep sand. We made the best of what we had. To our horror our fridge was not working.
Day 5 – Savuti – 36 kms
The heavens thundered and we battened down the hatches. I expected to return to our tents in a marsh. In the event the rain was light, and the ground had dried by the time we returned.
We drove around the Belmond Safari camp and marvelled at the palace in the bush. We followed a dry riverbed for several kilometres and saw the occasional elephant.
I saw a mobile safari camp and drove in to ask if anyone knew enough to help us work out why our fridge was not working. Onks was identified as the most knowledgeable person. He strung a thin electrical wire from the battery to the fridge and got it working. He then identified that a fuse between the main and spare batteries had blown but did not have a spare fuse.
At the camp office we asked if anyone knew enough to help us get our fridge working. Bimbo had been sent from Maun to fix the camp’s generator, so he was sent to help us. He identified that the electrical wires that had been torn apart the day before, on the middelmannetjie, included a live wire. He taped up the ends of all the trailing wires under the car and bypassed the two non-working fuses by connecting the wires directly. He emphasised that this was a temporary fix and that we needed to have everything fixed in Maun. We were delighted to have a working fridge.
After relaxing in camp, after lunch we watched a lone elephant at a waterhole a few kilometres from the camp.
Two cars were stationary three hundred metres away and were watching a pair of mating lions. Lions mate every fifteen minutes for up to four days. We joined them for about twenty minutes. The males have spines on their penis to cause slight trauma to the vagina upon withdrawal. The resulting pain triggers ovulation. It may also explain why females bare their teeth at males during mating.
A herd of elephants had arrived at the waterhole, so we returned there for a while. Elephants are most interesting at water. The pool was being fed by pipe from the windmill and the elephants tried hard to drink that fresh water.
We spent another twenty minutes with the mating lions before heading down a side road. We came across a second pair of lions who seemed to be preparing to mate when a lone elephant arrived, and to our amazement, charged the lions. The lions moved about two hundred metres and the elephant disappeared into the bush. This was clearly a rogue elephant so I positioned my vehicle so that I could escape quickly if need be. Suddenly the elephant appeared and charged the lions again who took off. We left the elephant stamping his foot.
We enjoyed the sunset before returning to camp.
Day 6 – Savuti to Mbudi Campsite in Khwai – 134 kms
We heeded the advice that we had received to take the Marsh Road to the south. The Ridge Road was apparently very sandy which would have been difficult with our trailer. The Marsh Road was firm, and we were managing 25kph when our passenger side rear tyre punctured. We separated the car and the trailer, found some logs to lift the punctured wheel, used one jack to initially lift the car and a second jack to lift it high enough. The job was done in an hour, mainly by Nick, and we were left in pools of sweat.
We exited the park at the Mababe Gate. The gate looks very different now when compared to when my father went through it in 1973.
We turned right onto the main gravel road from Maun and then left to Mbudi Campsite. Our site no 5 was beautiful on the edge of the Khwai River.
We drove over to Magotho and drove along the river and saw a few lone elephants drinking in the river and eating grass in shallow water.
We ate dinner to the sound of hippos snorting and went to sleep with an elephant 30 metres from our tents in the middle of the river.
Day 7 – Khwai via North Gate of Moremi National Park to Xakanaxa – 81 kms
We stopped at the Water Lilly Tuck Shop at the entrance to Khwai Village and were told that the price of Black Label was Pula 38 (£2.40) per bottle. We had two 330ml bottles of beer left in the fridge and decided that at that high price we would ration ourselves to one bottle per day each, so we needed seven more bottles. We paid and seven 750ml bottles were delivered. We had bought twice as much beer as we had expected! In the following hot days, we were pleased that we had overpurchased!
One kilometre further we came across the Afro Ville Coffee Shop whose most important product for sale was one hour of broadband time for Pula 50 (£3.15) for one device. The shopkeeper had learnt that he did not have to compromise and sell a shorter time or multiple devices because if he held out most customers paid. Nick and I paid up and I learnt that Rishi Sunak had become prime minster of the UK five days previously. No bread was available, so we settled on two vetkoek (fried doughnuts) each.
We tentatively crossed the wooden bridge to the north gate of Moremi, paid park fees for the next four days, drove through the North Gate SKL Campsite and agreed that it was inferior to Mbudi.
We immediately came across a large herd of zebra and several elephant. They were the last animals we saw that day on land. Twenty kilometres further we stopped at Hippo Pool and marvelled at how many hippo heads we could see.
Our satnav led us through a flowing river. We could see from tracks that another vehicle had been through that day, but I was very wary of trying to cross pulling the trailer. Annie and Nick remembered a game truck driver giving us instructions that seemed to be different to where we were. We backtracked 12km to find another road that took us past the river crossing but on the other side of the river.
The road to Xakanaxa was slower and further than we expected. We met Tiger at the campsite office who sold us one night’s supply of wood for Pula 50 (£3.15). We set up camp in a rather public site next to the ablution block. Two camp attendants agreed to do the laundry of Annie and me.
Day 8 – Xakanaxa – 49 kms
The day started slowly as we chatted over coffee.
We headed to Paradise Pools. We found a lovely area with trees and water but are not sure if they were Paradise. We spent two hours driving around the edge of several large pools of water and saw Red Lechwe leaping, a hippo out of water, plenty of water buck and finally, near camp, a few buffalo.
In the afternoon we did a boat trip with six other campers. Blake, the boatman, took us on to Xakanaxa Lagoon, which is on the edge of the Okavango Delta. We came across a happy elephant standing in the water eating huge amounts of swamp grass. Another boat from a lodge got its propellor entangled in the reeds and for a moment his passengers looked very fearful. The boatman used his mokoro stick to get clear of the reeds and then cleared his propellor in deeper water.
Blake took us up a channel to an island where Red Lechwe were grazing. Our final stop was a pod of hippos.
On the way back to base it rained lightly for ten minutes; the most rain that we have seen so far on this trip.
Day 9 – To Third Bridge – 52 kms
It was only 15kms to Third Bridge, but the tracks are so confusing that, despite our satnav, our paper map and three intelligent people, we lost our way and an hour after starting we were still 15kms from Third Bridge. We eventually got there, having crossed Fourth Bridge and the newly rebuilt Third Bridge.
When we found no bread at the tuck shop, we were told that the someone could bake us a loaf in the afternoon. We agreed subject to the price. An hour later we were told that the price for one loaf was Pula 200 (£12.60). We counter offered Pula 40 but were refused. No fresh bread was baked.
In the afternoon we headed on to the circle road conscious that this was our last chance on this trip to see elephant. We were rewarded with a sighting of a herd of 30 elephants, split into two groups. The one group had many babies. This was a lovely way to end our visit to Moremi.
Day 10 – To Maun – 172 kms
We were told that the road directly to South Gate from Third Bridge was very sandy with some water crossings and, with our trailer, would be a lot slower than going via Xakanaxa. Surprisingly we did not get lost returning to Xakanaxa and then picked up a reasonably good condition gravel road, getting to the South Gate of Moremi in two hours fifteen minutes from Third Bridge.
The road south became very corrugated after it was joined by the direct road from Khwai. We heard a banging sound and found that two of our roof rack legs had broken. Another task to do in Maun.
Maun is a town that is, for the most part, one street wide on the northern bank of the Thamalakane River and 15kms long and a similar length road (but less developed) on the southern bank. Coming from Moremi, about 7kms in, on the road on the northern side, is Marc’s Eatery where Marc has created a fun restaurant.
We had lunch and popped into Maun Studios, where Annie and I will be staying tomorrow night. We asked the host, Sarah, if she knew a place where we could get our roof rack welded.
Sarah sent us to her father Rocky, who knows everyone.
Rocky sent us to Matthew who could not do aluminium welding
Rocky then sent us to Philemon who was too busy to help us for a few days.
He sent us to Marvin who had sold his aluminium welding equipment when he was short of money.
Marvin took us to Mckenzie and his two assistants who spent two hours welding the roof supports and then refitting them. They also welded the rear door catch of the trailer. All for Pula 650 (£41).
Lots of vendors were selling firewood by the side of the road. We correctly surmised that competition drives prices down, so bought as much wood as we could carry.
We checked into the Island Safari Lodge which offers basic bungalows on the river front. Dinner was a disappointment. (Am I complaining too much about food?)
Day 11 – Maun – in workshops – 100 kms
I left the hotel early, leaving Annie and Nick to relax. At TyreMax I was told that my puncture was because my rim had a crack. They would send the rim to be welded and I could return by 10h30 to collect it.
Bimbo, who had done the emergency repair to the car electrics in Savuti, had told us to find him at Midas, the car parts store. There I was told that Bimbo did not work at the store but was an employee of Roger, who happened to be in the store. Roger’s business was generators and he told me that Bimbo had been sent to Savuti to fix a generator (and fixing my car was not in his remit!). He recommended Arthur Stott as the best auto electrician in town. Arthur sucked in his breath and climbed under my car for two hours, emerging only when he had reconnected all the trailer and rear vehicle lights and replaced the two blown fuses linked to the second battery. Arthur is 55 and told me that he was emigrating to Australia at the end of November with his wife, daughter and a suitcase each. Rocky, from Maun Studios arrived, to assess a car, that he had sold to Arthur ten years previously, and which Arthur had offered him back.
I returned to TyreMax to be told that my rim was not back but would be back at 14h00. Rocky was deep in conversation with other customers. I think Rocky knows everyone in town.
I drove across town to collect Annie and Nick from Island Safari Lodge and said a sad farewell to Nick who was flying to Cape Town. Annie and I had another mediocre lunch at Sedia Hotel. We asked our waiter to take a photo of us with sad faces at the departure of Nick. Our cold beers quickly returned smiles to our faces.
I dropped Annie at Maun Studios.
TyreMax told me that my tyre would definitely be ready by 15h00.
Rocky had advised that Owen at Frozen Donkey would be able to solve my air conditioning problem. Mustafa was the only person there and identified that there was a leak at the point where the air-conditioning fluid returned to the condenser radiator. The equipment to braze it was with Owen who was working on aircon units at the airport. He told me that he would be with me by 15h30.
I rushed to Tyremax and stamped my foot when the rim was not available. The manager leapt into action and said he would personally fetch it.
15h30 passed and there was no sign of Owen at Frozen Donkey. TyreMax called to say that my tyre was ready, so I collected it.
Owen arrived at 16h15 and he and Mustafa took apart the front of my Fortuner, removing the aircon condenser radiator. Owen started brazing. Mustafa announced that as it was 17h00, his day was over, and he was leaving.
Storm clouds rumbled. It started raining. I had a dilemma. I had been standing next to Owen watching him work up to now. If I now chose to find cover and move away from the job, how would he react? He was working after hours in the rain. If I withdrew, he could quite reasonably say that he would finish the job tomorrow. So, I stayed by his side while the ferocity of the rain increased. Owen kept reassembling the front of my car. When it started hailing, we withdrew to his workshop for ten minutes and then returned to work.
With the job finished I paid him more than the reasonable amount he asked for. The air conditioning system was blasting cold air. I was soaked through and already cold so turned the aircon off.
I arrived back at Maun Studios with no time to appreciate my lovely room. After a quick shower, Annie and I headed to Marc’s Eatery for a disappointing mushroom risotto.
Day 12 – Maun to Kang – 530 kms
As we attached the trailer to the car, we noticed that the handle of the jockey wheel was bent. On our way out of town we stopped off at McKenzie (who had fixed the roof rack two days before) who straightened the handle with a few blows from his hammer.
The road south is a good tar road and we averaged 100kph. At the veterinary fence at the Ghanzi Province Border we had to disinfect our shoes and boots, but to my surprise were not asked about carrying fresh meat. We were not carrying fresh meat because of the prohibition on carrying meat south through the veterinary line.
We stopped at Symponia Guesthouse near Ghanzi which had opened 18 months previously. We inspected the rooms and concluded that this would be a good place to stop over when heading north. The kitchen was not open, but the receptionist knocked up decent toasted sandwiches for us.
Ghanzi Butcher was closed, it was unclear whether just for lunch or for Wednesday afternoon.
Another few hours of fast driving brought us to Kalahari Rest Lodge for the night. Someone once cared for this place, but maintenance issues are not being addressed and it is deteriorating. I was foolish to order a schnitzel for dinner.
Day 13 – Kang to Mabuesehube Pan in the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park – 306 kms
We decided that the quality of meat at the Kang Filling Station and the Kang Butchery was not good enough and were then forced to buy even lower quality meat at the Sefalana Supermarket in Hukuntsi. The tar ended at Lokgwabe and we then had a slow 140kms drive on a sandy gravel road to the entrance of the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park at the Mabuasehube Gate.
We were told that the bucket of our bucket shower at the campsite that we were going to, was broken, and that a replacement would be provided next morning. It never arrived.
We circled Mpayathutlwa Pan on our 33km way to Campsite 3 at Mabuasehube Pan which has a lovely view over the pan, seeing a few oryx and ostriches on the way.
We set up Annie’s tent and then retreated to the car as the skies opened with rain and wind. After the storm was over, we erected my tent, only to be forced back to the car by a second storm. The wind howled and both our tents were overturned. When the storm passed, we found that each tent had three broken poles in the framework that supports the tent. We cobbled together a temporary solution with duct tape.
The Mabuasehube campsites have a reputation for lions being habituated to humans and visiting campsites. I have previously had such an experience. It may be great to talk about afterwards but is scary in anticipation. We set up a laager to try and minimise the space for lions to enter. In the event no lions visited us.
The air was cool, and it was a delight sitting looking over the pan as the light died.
The full moon was hidden by the clouds. We went to bed listening to lions roaring.
At midnight we were rudely awakened by a third storm that screamed and howled. I stood holding my ridge pole fearful that the tent would be pushed over. As it abated Annie called from her tent to say that a repair we had done earlier had failed. We pasted more duct tape.
Day 14 – Mabuasehube – 47 kms
After a very disturbed night we were woken by a determined pecking noise. A small bird had taken exception to his reflection in the car mirrors and windows. We chased him away, but he returned. We covered the mirrors and he moved to the windows. The pecking continued until we drove away and again when we returned. We later realised how determined he was when we found blood traces where he had been pecking.
We did a drive to Khiding Pan and returned once again via Mpayathutlwa Pan. There were many veld fires in the Park six weeks ago. The start of the summer rains had quickly caused green sprouts. We got down low to photograph a leopard tortoise. Animal sightings were limited to oryx, kudu, springbuck and ostriches.
After relaxing at camp, we did a late afternoon drive around the Mabuasehube Pan with the main sighting being a herd of 50 springbuck.
We were relieved that the skies were clear. As we sat enjoying the night the stillness was disturbed by a snuffling sound. Suddenly a spotted hyena was three metres from us. We started and he slunk away.
Day 15 – Mabuasehube in Botswana to Nossob Camp in South Africa – 192 kms
We were up before 06h00 and enjoyed watching the herd of 50 springbuck graze their way past us. We undid the duct tape and packed our tents carefully to ensure the broken poles did not puncture the tent fabric. We drove an hour to Bosobogolo Pan to start the 173 km trip to Nossob.
This is a road of forty blind rises and a million corrugations. We averaged 30kph and did the trip in 5.5 hours meeting only three vehicles heading in the other direction. Motopi Pan was busy with oryx and ostriches. We had a lovely sighting of forty eland. Such magnificent animals. After Motopi the dunes start appearing – first at a low level and then increasingly higher. The approach to the dune summits are normally very sandy so one needs to approach at speed in second gear in high four wheel range. I would hoot as I approached the blind rise, desperately hoping that there would be no approaching vehicle. (The Toyota Service Manager in Upington told me a few days later that there are regular head on crashes on those blind rises.)
My trailer is a big additional burden when fighting soft sand on dunes. The vehicle has a big extra load to get through the sand. A significant risk is that if one gets stuck in soft sand on a slope with a trailer it is very difficult to reverse.
Fifteen kilometres from the end of the trail is the big daddy of dunes. Two alternative tracks had been forged. We walked to the top and assessed that the original track had the least curve and seemed to be used the most. I retreated a distance with the vehicle and built up as much speed as I could muster. I lost power quickly and five metres from the summit I feared that I would stall but I just made it. A short while later I breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed the dry Nossob Riverbed.
I have not previously camped in the Premium Campsites at Nossob and was delighted with them. They are large with a dedicated bathroom and outside covered kitchen area for each site. We were surprised to be bothered by a scavenging black backed jackal after dinner.
Day 16 Nossob Camp to Mata Mata Camp – 140 kms
Packing up camp seemed particularly burdensome today. Annie and I had to take regular breaks. Come back Nick. We need your strength and physicality.
We had bought freshly baked bread from Agnes, one of the camp attendants, last night. We arranged with her (and paid in advance) that she would do our laundry and we would pick it up in two days on our way back through Nossob. We dropped our laundry off at the reception area.
At the filling station I complimented a driver on his well kitted Land Cruiser. He responded by telling me that his previous vehicle was like mine and had fallen apart on the track from Mabuasehube. He had bought this superior vehicle at a knock down price from someone who had overextended himself. When he heard that we had only spent two days in Mabuasehube and seen few animals, he told me that was a mistake because when they had stayed ten days, they had seen plenty of lion, a pack of wild dogs and mating leopards. He told me that they had a holiday house in Henties Bay in Namibia which was perfectly situated in the middle of the country making it easy for him to get to all places. As I left this self-satisfied man I wondered and feared that sometimes I might sound too self-satisfied to others.
The South African side of the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park has five wilderness camps which each have four or five simple cabins overlooking a water hole. These are very popular, and it had taken me months to put together an itinerary which included one night each, for the next four nights, at Urikaruus, Kieliekrankie, Grootkolk and Bitterpan. Our plan today was to drive 160 kms to Mata Mata camp, leave our trailer there and return to Urikaruus. We headed 50 kms south along the Nossob River and then turned on to the 55 kms dunes road to the Auob River. The red dunes were in stark contrast to our grey road. It was clear that no rains had yet fallen on this side of the Park and many areas remained black from the fires.
We started smelling burnt rubber from the car.
We stopped off at Urikaruus and were delighted at the cabin we would be occupying tonight. Eric, the camp attendant told us that he thought the burnt rubber smell was a problem with our clutch plate.
The car started performing in a curious way. The engine revved even when my foot was not on the accelerator. I changed gear with no effect. Twenty-five kilometres before Mata Mata we lost all power and coasted to a stop in the burning sun.
I used my inReach device to send a text message by satellite to Nick to alert the Park authorities. I invoked the SOS button on my inReach device and instantly got a text from the Garmin International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) in Montgomery Texas, USA asking for more information. We advised that we could not engage gears. Both our messages to Nick and the IERCC had automatically included our coordinates. The IERCC advised that they would be informing the appropriate authorities. They also called Tibby, Megan and David, telling them of our situation. A car passed and carried our details to Mata Mata. Two hours after breaking down Andre arrived from Mata Mata to transport us and our overnight luggage there.
The camp manager, George Pearson, arranged a chalet for us to stay the night. We used the camp telephone to call the Automobile Association of South Africa (whom I pay an annual insurance to) and had a frustrating 20-minute call with a responder who seemed to have no access to a map and seemed to completely misunderstand the logistics of being in a remote National Park. She said that a tow truck would be sent to us first thing in the morning. Not being comfortable with her responses I called back an hour later and was told by a different responder that the system was set to call a towing company in the morning. I asked her to start the process immediately so that a towing company could be engaged today to leave before first light tomorrow for the five-hour journey from Upington to the car. Thirty minutes later a dispatcher from the AA called my South African phone number (which worked by picking up a signal from a nearby tower just across the border in Namibia) and we agreed the arrangements and my share of the towing fee. He told me that ProTowing in Upington would do the job. An hour later I called Freddie, the owner of ProTowing, who had received bare details from the AA, and confirmed that the truck would aim to be at Twee Rivieren when they opened for commercial vehicles at 07h00.
Our Riverview Family Chalet with two bedrooms was a delight especially when a pair of lions came down to the waterhole in front of the chalet.
During the night the first rains for the area fell.
Day 17 – Mata Mata to Upington (in a tow truck)
Gordon, the tow truck driver, called me at 0740 to say that he was entering the gate at Twee Rivieren. He had left Upington at 04h30. We agreed to meet at the car at 10h00. The Mata Mata staff took me there.
Gordon loaded the car on the flatbed truck, hitched the trailer to his tow bar, delivered the trailer to Mata Mata, drove 5.5 hours to Upington and delivered us and the car to Upington Toyota just before 17h00. In the last hour of the trip, I could see that Gordon was very tired, so I chatted away to ensure that he did not fall asleep. (This was not a sure-fire solution. People often fall asleep when I talk.)
I cannot compliment Upington Toyota enough. We were supported all the way through this ordeal. I agreed to a R700 (£32) premium for their mechanic to work overtime to identify the problem. We were provided with cold drinks, WIFI access and a lift to our hastily booked hotel.
Days 18 – Upington
Toyota called at 09h00 to confirm to me that my clutch plate needed replacing, gave me a quote which I accepted, and ordered the parts from Johannesburg before 10h00. I popped into Toyota and saw my gear box and clutch plate out of the car and then spent time on the sales floor inspecting bigger, tougher vehicles which I aspire to own.
The Toyota Service Manager told me that most clutch plates of Fortuner cars, would need replacing after doing 200,000 kilometres. I reflected on the fact that we had been lucky that the clutch plate had stopped working when we were in the South African part of the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park where help was relatively readily available. Our situation would have been far more dire if the clutch had broken the day before when we were in the dunes of the Botswana section of the Park, and where a rescue would have been far more complex. If the clutch had broken a few days later, when we will be in the Namib Desert, on an expensive guided tour, we would have had to abandon that trip and pay for a more expensive recovery.
Toyota provided us with a courtesy vehicle for the day for R200 (£9.22).
Annie and I shopped at Agrimark and bought more duct tape (to keep the tents up), metal struts (to support one of the tent poles), 3 x 20 litre water bottles and cargo nets (for the upcoming desert trip) and incredibly cheap boots (R430 = £20) (for life). That part of town lost power and as we walked through the Kalahari Mall in the semi darkness, I reflected on how the mismanagement of the electricity generating company, Escom, is bringing the country to its knees.
We delivered our shopping to our vehicle at Toyota and transferred some of the fragile items from our fridge to theirs.
We came across a butcher who had biltong and droewors drying in a corner and stocked up with a kilogram of biltong (£14) (67% of the cost of my boots – hope the biltong is not as tough) in three vacuum packed bags.
I was impressed by the courtesy and helpfulness of the staff at Toyota, Protea Hotel, Vodacom and Agrimark. I was less impressed when walking in town. I found that there were no pedestrian lights and that when crossing on green, turning cars did not stop for me but determinedly drove almost into me.
Toyota called at 17h00 to advise that our parts had been handed to the overnight courier in Johannesburg.
The Protea Hotel restaurant served my lamb curry in swan shaped foil. Once unwrapped it was delicious.
Day 19 – Upington to Twee Rivieren in the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park – 254 kms
Toyota called at 09h00 to advise that the parts had been delivered, at 11h00 to advise that the job was well progressed and at 13h00 to advise that the car was ready for collection. Toyota said the steering was pulling to the left and that the wheels needed alignment which I did next door.
Gordon Pearson called from Mata Mata to advise that he had noticed that a crucial bolt on the trailer had sheared and so a replacement 12mm x 100mm bolt was purchased at Agrimark on our way out of town.
We did the 250km to Twee Rivieren on good roads in 2.5 hours and checked into our late booked family chalet. Gordon had arranged for our laundry to be transferred from Nossob to Twee Rivieren and we were delighted to receive it. The entrance to the park now has plenty of parking and a large reception building with oryx statues outside. Very different when I went through here in 1968 with my father and younger brother.
I hesitate to say it, but the steak at the camp restaurant was a disappointment.
Day 20 – Twee Rivieren in South Africa to Kalahari Game Lodge in Namibia – 178 kms
For the first time in the Kgaligadi Park in South Africa we drove at a relaxed pace for the 120 kms to Mata Mata.
We stopped at the Auchterlonie Musuem. This two roomed stone and thatch cottage was built for the guards of the newly dug water hole, who were to protect the area from the expected advance of the Germans from German Southwest Africa in 1914. The Germans never arrived and locals lived in this incredibly basic cottage until 1931 when it was abandoned. The area next to the cottage is a picnic area.
We diverted to see what we had missed by not staying at Kieliekrankie Wilderness Camp. We missed a lot. There are five en-suite chalets, separate from each other, overlooking a waterhole in a crater. The rooms are very comfortable and a very big step up from the other wilderness camps.
Back on the road along the Auob River we did not see many animals but did see several interesting birds.
At Mata Mata George arranged for a staff member to replace the broken bolt on the trailer. I was amazed at how the bolt had been shorn in two.
The South African Police confiscated our firewood as we were not permitted, by the Namibian authorities, to take wood into the country. I would have thought that the Namibians should be enforcing these rules rather than the SA Police. I assume the SA Police were happy to use our firewood.
The Namibians required us to sterilise our shoes and they sprayed our vehicle.
The border crossing was painless.
Fifteen kilometres further we checked into the pleasant Kalahari Game Lodge. At 16h00 we explored the 24 kms 4X4 trail through the dunes with several sandy approaches to dune summits. This was enjoyable driving, without the trailer.
En route my odometer turned over to 200,000 kms which pleases my simple mind.
I enjoyed a magnificent springbok steak for dinner.
Day 21 – Kalahari Game Lodge to Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge near Mariental – 268 kms
At 07h00 we joined Nelson, the guide, and five other guests in a game drive vehicle. We drove twenty minutes to the huge 24,000 ha lion enclosure and then for another 45 minutes to the far end of the enclosure to the boundary with the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park. Nelson used an antenna to identify where collared lions were.
We came across two three-year-old lionesses relaxing under a bush. Nelson pointed out that one of them had a damaged jaw where she had been kicked by a giraffe that they had attempted to hunt some weeks earlier. Nearby we found the remains of a wildebeest that the lionesses had killed during the night.
Nelson told us that the lodge had bought one hundred wildebeest two months ago and released them all in the lion enclosure. By my calculation all hundred will have been killed by the lions in 200 days. The enclosure can contain many more lions but the cost of feeding them wildebeest must be astronomical. The lions are periodically swapped with other reserves to ensure genetic strength.
About a kilometre away we came across a male four-year-old lion by the previous wildebeest kill of the lionesses. They had concluded that the meat was putrefying and had hunted again. In a pride of lions the hunting is normally done by the lionesses. A solitary lion therefore has difficulty hunting. This lion was having to live off the cast offs of the lionesses. It is not clear why the three of them have not formed a pride.
After the lion drive, we hit the long dirt road towards Mariental. We soon came across a sign that advertised that Gochas was 150 kms along the road.
The road was wide, recently graded gravel and a pleasure to drive on. The distance fell away and soon after 13h00 we came across the turn off to Gochas and went to explore. There is a filling station and an OK food store. The Bank of Windhoek is open for four hours on a Friday morning. We were too early for the opening of the two churches. We were welcomed at Stoney’s Hotel and enjoyed sandwiches in a pleasant courtyard.
The Gondwana Collection is a group of about twenty hotels in Namibia. We arrived at their Kalahari Anib Lodge which is an architectural delight in the desert.
My evening was spoilt by the news that there had been a fire in a room of one of our tenants in a Guildford house. I had a fluctuating phone signal and battled to communicate with the affected tenants and those who could help me solve the problem. I was particularly concerned that I am going into the Namib Desert for four days from Monday and will not be contactable. Overnight I received confirmation that Richard Neale of the letting agent, Martin & Co, in Guildford would organise the restoration of the house. I was immensely relieved.
Day 22 – Kalahari Anib Lodge to Namib Desert Lodge near Sossusvlei – 250 kms
We spent an hour repacking the car and trailer and left the trailer at the lodge until our return in a week’s time. We stocked up in Mariental with food, fuel, alcohol and airtime.
There was a good tar road to Maltahohe and then good gravel roads. The road took us through a valley in the Naukluft mountains which was delightful.
We overnighted at the pleasant Gondwana Namib Desert Lodge with lovely views on to red desert cliffs.
Day 23 – Sossusvlei to Walvis Bay – 534 kms
Joseph, the porter, collected our luggage at 05h00 and at 06h00 we were sixth in the queue at the Sossusvlei gate as it opened. The sun rose behind us as we travelled down the 60km road from the gate to the parking area. The shadows on the dunes were long and beautiful. Three hot air balloons rose on the horizon. Enthusiasts were already climbing the 80-metre-high Dune 45.
At the parking area we boarded the Parks Board shuttle for the last 6kms of soft sand, first to the 325 metre high Big Daddy Dune and then to Sossusvlei.
Wikipedia: Sossusvlei is a clay pan, of roughly elliptical shape, covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. While the pan has been shaped over time by the Tsauchab river, the actual flooding of the pan is a relatively rare event, and sometimes several years pass between one flood and the next one. The river is dry most of the year, and even when it is not, it carries relatively little water to the vlei.
I attempted to climb Big Daddy in 2016, with our daughter, Juls and her then husband, Paul. We failed miserably. Climbing in the soft sand is falling back one step for every two steps climbed. This time we stayed at the base and took photos.
At 08h00 we started the 325km drive to Walvis Bay, mainly on good gravel roads. We stopped off at the slightly quirky setup that is the settlement of Solitaire.
A short while later we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.4394 degrees south. It marks the most southerly latitude at which the sun can appear directly overhead at noon.
We enjoyed driving through the Kuiseb Pass.
The air conditioning in the car failed. One of the spare wheels on the back of the car jumped loose of its catch several times so we tied it to the other wheel with a bicycle lock. That failed as we entered Walvis Bay, so we drove slowly to the Iris Hotel where we were staying.
Tibby flew in from Johannesburg and arrived at the hotel soon after us. We caught up with each other’s news and had dinner at The Raft Restaurant.
Day 24 – First day in the Namib Desert – 142 kms
With three people, all our luggage and camping equipment, the car was packed to the gills. We met our guide Luciano and his assistant, Lukas, at their workshop. I bought a rachet strap and we tied the rear wheel to the roof rack.
We had originally booked a seven-day trip from Aus in the south, across the Namib desert to Walvis Bay with Nico Burger of Coast2Coast. Twice he confirmed to me that the trip would run and then two months before, cancelled the trip, apparently because participants had cancelled. I found this behaviour to be despicable. I had relied on Nico and had organised the rest of my trip around his dates. Live the Journey rose to the challenge and organised a four-day trip for me. We had hoped others would join, but that did not happen, and so we paid a premium for a one-on-one service.
We headed south-east and crossed the dry Kuiseb River at Gobabeb and entered the desert in the linear dune belt. Linear dunes develop where wind pressures are nearly equal on both sides of a dune and in this case, they run from north to south with valleys or streets in between. We started crossing dunes and I then realised the difference between being on a trip with ten guest vehicles and now being the only guest vehicle. With a bigger group there is time to consider matters as others take their turn to drop down a slip face or to get to the summit of a dune. I now had no respite. Luciano was moving fast and expecting me to keep up. There was no guide standing at the top of a slip face to tell me when to stop and when to go. The low point was when I tried eight times to reach the summit of a dune and failed. Luciano then took my vehicle and failed at the first attempt but succeeded at the second. By the end of the day, I was a nervous wreck. This had been the most stressful day of my 4×4 career.
Camp was a semi-permanent camp of Live the Journey, with fixed toilet huts and a windbreak. We set up camp for two nights. Luciano served up a magnificent meal.
The stars were hidden by clouds. We all slept well.
Day 25 – Second day in the Namib Desert – 125 kms
We started the day by doing two roller coasters. In each case this was a downhill run of about a kilometre between the dunes followed by a similar length ascent the other side. One was able to reach a high speed, and needed to, to get to the summit. My passengers loved it. I was too fearful that I was not going to reach a high enough speed.
We headed south to Conception Water which was a landing place and source of water for the prospectors who first arrived in this area in 1908, after large diamond finds further south caused the government to declare that area as a restricted area (Sperrgebiet). The settlements of Holsatia, Charlottenfelder and Grillenberger were built to provide accommodation for the miners and their workers. The diamond fields and these settlements were operational only for about six years until the beginning of the First World War in 1914.
There used to be a customs and police station at Conception Water which today serves as a little museum. We stopped there before following the water pipeline to Holsatia.
Not much remains of Holsatia. A simple three-room wooden house is being invaded by the desert. There are outlines of the terrible accommodation provided to workers and there are several diamond sieves.
We crossed to the coast to the wreck of the Eduard Bohlen. On 5 September 1909, the Eduard Bohlen was due to offload equipment for the diamond diggers near Conception Bay on her voyage from Swakopmund to Table Bay. However, due to heavy fog, she ran aground on a sandbank about 100 metres from the beach. After some of the cargo and equipment aboard the ship was unloaded, the marine vessel Otavi attempted to tow the Eduard Bohlen from the sandbank which failed. The 30 passengers disembarked and were transported to Swakopmund. No lives were lost. Today the wreck lies 400 metres inland from the sea and can be easily viewed.
We headed back into the dunes, up dunes and down slip faces. At one point I got stuck in the sand about five metres from the lip of large hole in the sand. I battled with Luciano’s instructions to turn my wheels down the dune towards the hole and dug myself in deeper. Tibby and Annie got out of the vehicle for fear that the vehicle would roll into the hole. Lukas tied a rope between Luciano’s vehicle and mine and it was explained to me in simple words that the solution now was for me to be pulled into the hole. That happened and we both came to rest at the bottom of this sand hole. The way out was steep, but it proved manageable.
A little while later Luciano told me that I needed to keep my speed up as we traversed across the slope of a dune. As I did it, I realised that the slope was so steep that if I was moving slower there was a danger that the vehicle would roll sideways down the dune. After it was done, I told Luciano that I was very uncomfortable with the manoeuvre and did not want to do that again.
Off we went – build up speed: second, third, fourth gear and when you slow down, back to third – at the top of the dune turn sharply to avoid going over – here is a long slip face: do not let the vehicle go sideways – and a second slip face – at the bottom take it slowly over a bump – then give it all you’ve got – go full speed to the top of the dune but stop on the top before the next slip face. And so, it went on. I was absolutely focused on the route, battling at times to follow Luciano’s tracks with the sun overhead and no shadows. The girls enjoyed the amazing desert scenes, but I was too focused on keeping my head above water to look around. I was a limp rag by the time we got back to camp. It was a delight to relax and enjoy another lovely dinner cooked on the fire.
Day 26 – Third day in the Namib Desert – 51 kms
We packed up camp and had a late start.
We headed over the dunes and in an hour, we reached the wreck of the Shawnee. The Shawnee, an American tug, used in the Cabinda (Angola) oil fields was stranded here on 6th February 1976. It was being towed to Cape Town for a refit when the tow rope broke. The insurance company refused the claim on the basis that the wrong tow rope was used. No lives were lost. It was surrounded by the sea. The last time I saw her she was accessible from the beach. This probably is just a difference in tides.
We had an early lunch and waited for the tide to subside so that we could traverse the Langewand when the tide is low. This is a stretch of beach about 20 kilometres long where the sea breaks on the dunes at high tide but reveals a narrow beach at low tide.
A group of ten vehicles en route from Luderitz to Walvis Bay arrived at the Shawnee and were also waiting for the tide to subside. At about 14h00 with the tide going out, we headed up the beach, with waves running up the beach to our vehicles. This is an exciting experience.
At the end of the Langewand 1,000 seals welcomed us and then ran for the sea.
We entered another dune belt and moved fast up dunes and down successive slip faces and then arrived at the beach at Sandwich Harbour.
Wikipedia: Sandwich Harbour (Portuguese: Porto d’Ilhéu), is an area on the Atlantic coast of Namibia that includes a bay in the north and a lagoon at the southern end. The name could be after an English whaling ship, the Sandwich, which worked during the 1780s, or may be a corruption of the German word “sandfische”, a species of shark found in the area. Formerly the bay was a moderately-sized commercial port based around whaling and small-scale fishing, but it is now best known for its birdlife in the lagoon to the south of the bay. There are no signs of the port left.
The wind was howling as we set up camp. We tied our guy ropes to 20 litre containers of water and a spare wheel. We stretched a wind break between the two vehicles. We walked along the beach. As night fell, we huddled close to the fire and had another wonderful meal of steak and chips. The stars shone brightly.
Day 27 – Fourth day in the Namib Desert and return to Walvis Bay – 93 kms
The wind weakened in the night. We packed up camp and headed out for the last two hours of high dunes. Luciano called for me to maintain speed and I cursed him as I realised that I was once again moving sideways across a dune where a low speed might cause my vehicle to roll sideways down the dune.
And so, we left the Namib-Naukluft National Park and followed the shore road, through salt pans and salt processing plants, into Walvis Bay. Groups of flamingos had their heads in the water eating away.
Our air conditioning had stopped working again and so Luciano took me to his friend, Ghaddafi, who quickly pronounced that I needed a new condenser. He could get one in the next two hours, so we agreed to meet at 14h00.
We sought accommodation at the Protea Pelican Bay Hotel. They had no conventional rooms left but for the price of a double and a single they accommodated us in their presidential suite. This was not as grand as the name suggested but it gave us two ensuite bedrooms and a large worn lounge.
We had lunch at the relatively new Dunes Mall, and I left the ladies to shop so that I could return to Ghaddafi. It was a joy to watch a professional at work as he removed the front of my Fortuner and replaced the condenser.
Dinner was at Anchors Waterfront Restaurant.
Day 28 – Walvis Bay to Mariental – 518 kms
We left Tibby luxuriating in the presidential suite before her return flight to Johannesburg.
We headed east on the road we had come in on from Solitaire and once again enjoyed driving through the Kuiseb Pass. We turned off the M14 on to the M26 towards Windhoek and really enjoyed going over the Gamsberg Pass. Our satnav told us to go down a farm road to get to Rehoboth. I was very wary but nonetheless proceeded. Five hundred metres later the satnav told us to go through a locked gate which was sufficient to send us back to the main road. A few kilometres further there was a road sign directing us to take the D1237 to Rehoboth. Our satnav agreed with this route!
We arrived in Rehoboth around lunch time and had to settle for a miserable lunch at Hungry Lion.
Two hours later we were back at the Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge where our trailer and laundry were waiting. This is a delightful place to stay.
Day 29 – South of Mariental and then back to Windhoek – 116 kms (and then in a tow truck)
Just after 09h00 we were travelling towards Keetmanshoop, 50 kms south of Mariental, at 120 kph, pulling the trailer on a flat tar road with no other traffic. Suddenly the car jerked left. I fought to control the vehicle and slowed it to a stop off the road. Our front left wheel was at an angle with the base of the wheel further to the left than the top of the wheel. My heart sunk and I told Annie that this might be the end of our holiday. Fortunately, we had a signal for my mobile phone so I could access the internet and make calls. We quickly ascertained that Toyota in Keetmanshoop did not open on a Saturday and that the one towing company based in Mariental had moved to Ondangwa.
The easiest solution was to get towed 186kms to Keetmanshoop but if we were going to have to leave the car there and return to Cape Town, how would we get to Cape Town from there without a car? Would we enjoy spending the weekend in Keetmanshoop? The alternative was to spend more money to get towed 315 kms to Windhoek. The Toyota dealer was more likely to have the necessary parts. It would be reasonably pleasant to stay in Windhoek for the weekend. We could fly directly from Windhoek to Cape Town if the car was going to take a long time to be fixed. After a few calls I found Corne᷃ Meyer of A&A Recovery in Windhoek who was very helpful and offered a discounted rate. She dispatched Rudolph to us with the expectation that he would take four hours to get to us. We rolled out the canopy and had lunch. I persuaded the Gondwana Hotel Chain to transfer my booking for tonight from Canyon Village at the Fish River Canyon to their Weinberg Hotel in Windhoek.
I reflected on the fact that, although it was sad that we had a mechanical breakdown, we were very fortunate that it had happened on a flat tar road when no other traffic was present.
A local man arrived on foot, told us that he was a mechanic, looked at our wheel and said that the part needed would be available in Mariental and if he could get the part, he would quickly fix our car. I decided not to stop Rudolph getting to us.
In the expectation that we would be leaving the car with Toyota in Windhoek and flying to Cape Town, we transferred most loose items to the trailer. Rudolph kept us informed of his progress and arrived just before 15h00. Loading the car on to the back of the truck was a slow affair as the front left wheel did not behave. The trailer was hooked on to the back.
We leapt into the cab of the truck; a position that was now getting too familiar. Four hours later Rudolph delivered us to the Weinberg Hotel, which was a delightful place to stay.
We had dinner at the only branch of Cape Town Fish Market in Namibia, which is adjacent to the hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed my fish curry.
Day 30 – First day in Windhoek
Our taxi driver, called Lot, told us that he was an optimist and did not look back. He dropped us in the centre of Windhoek on a Sunday, which was devoid of activity.
In the afternoon, our guide to Windhoek was called Sunday. He showed us the outside of the locked Lutheran Christ Church (or Christuskirche), the outside of the locked Independence Museum and the outside of the locked and closed main railway station. We were told that nationalised rail network (and Air Namibia) had been closed because corruption had bankrupted it. Travelling between cities by public transport is now limited to coaches. Sunday took us to a high point from where we could view the relatively newly built Presidential Compound. We circled the town to other viewpoints, driving though pretty suburbs and then drove through the grittier suburb of Katutura. Sunday made the point that most of the population of the city live in Katutura.
I was in a quandary whether to book the last few seats on a flight on Monday to Cape Town or wait to see the diagnosis of Toyota. Tibby, over the phone, persuaded me to the latter, so we extended our stay at the hotel to include Monday night.
Corne᷃ Meyer of A&A Recovery told me that she had alerted Conrad, the Indongo Toyota service manager of our predicament.
Day 31 – Second day in Windhoek – 26 kms
I met Rudolph with the Fortuner at Indongo Toyota at 07h30. The service advisor touched base with Conrad who told us to hold off booking our flights to Cape Town. Two hours later Toyota told us that the upper control arm ball joint, control arm and stabilizer needed to be replaced, that the parts were in stock and that we could have the car back in a few hours.
With great relief I picked up the car at 14h00, dropped off Annie at The Grove Mall, collected the trailer from A&A Recovery and shopped for provisions with Annie at SuperSpar.
Having decided to eat Italian food I discovered that a few Italian restaurants were closed on a Monday night and so made a reservation at Sicilia Restaurant on Independence Avenue. I concluded that I could not park directly in front of the restaurant and tried to park around the corner. The restaurant owner, Mr P, ran to us to tell us that it was not safe to park there, especially with our loaded roof rack, and told us to park in the loading bay in front of the restaurant.
Mr P told us that the restaurant had been on this site for 42 years, that he had been the owner for ten years and that they were open every day of the year. He told us that he was delighted that Air Namibia and the Railway network were closed because it meant, in respect of these companies, that the taxpayer was no longer pouring money into the bank accounts of corrupt officials. The restaurant was 70% full with most patrons watching a World Cup football game on TV. The young waitress told us that she had never opened a bottle of wine and asked the barman to help her. He shredded the cork but got it out without polluting the wine. The food was wonderful.
The night ended on a sour note. I thought I locked the car as we entered the restaurant. Ten minutes later the car guard called me to point out that the rear right door was ajar. Mr P asked me to check if everything was still in the car. Because we had packed everything in the trailer, the back of the car was empty so nothing could be taken. On our return, after the meal, I discovered that my expensive Garmin Overlander SatNav Screen (but not the window mount or charging cable) had been stolen. What a waste! The screen without the charging cable will be of little value to the thief yet I will have to pay a lot to replace it.
Day 32 – To the Fish River Canyon – 400 kms
We hit the main road south early and maintained a good speed for several hours. At some point we were slowed by road widening works. These works are necessary because the unwidened parts are very narrow – slightly wider than a normal car. It is scary with cars rushing at each other at a combined speed of over 200 kph and separated by less than a metre. Large trucks stretched over the white dividing line forcing me to hug the edge of the tar road.
We shopped for provisions in Keetmanshoop and were pleased that we had spent the weekend in Windhoek rather than in this town.
I proposed marriage to Tibby in 1976 on the shores of Naute Dam. We stopped at Naute Kristall Distillery, by the dam, and tasted and bought their gin made from dates grown near them.
Our next stop was Canon Roadhouse part of the Gondwana Group. This is a quirky and fun restaurant and hotel with old rusting cars outside and lots of memorabilia inside.
I decided to delay visiting the Fish River Canyon to the morning for fear that the setting sun would be in our eyes.
We checked into Gondwana Canyon Village, a pleasant lodge among amazing rock formations.
Day 33 – Fish River Canyon and south to South Africa – 667 kms
I made the mistake of thinking that the view of the Canyon would be good close to sunrise. Although the advertised opening time of the Park is 06h00 the gateman allowed us in at 05h40 on the understanding that we would pay our park charges on our return. We then discovered that the canyon is best viewed in full sunlight and that the early morning shadows diminished the view. We viewed the canyon from the main viewing platform, the place where hikers descend and a kilometre south of the main platform. We stayed to see the canyon fully lit by the sun.
We made our way to the B1 main road south to South Africa. The road was good, and I set my cruise control to 120kph. Fifty kilometres from the border the car suddenly came out of cruise control. I justified it by the fact that we were travelling uphill but I later realised that that was the point when the rear left trailer wheel punctured. A kilometre later the tyre shredded. We changed the tyre under a hot sun. I noted that the spare wheel that I was now fitting to the trailer had a plug in the side of the tyre. I should not drive too far with that tyre!
There were few travellers at the Nordoewer/Vioolsdrif border, and we passed through quickly. I made sure to get SA Customs to sign the declaration on my Carnets, confirming that both the Fortuner and trailer had arrived back in South Africa.
We stopped for a picnic lunch beside the road.
Supa Quick Tyres in Springbok laughed at my shredded trailer tyre and were happy to replace two tyres.
While they were doing that, we walked up to the iconic Springbok Lodge and Restaurant where I enjoyed a lime milkshake and Annie settled for a large ice cream.
At the Skilpad Camp of the Namaqua National Park we were directed to our chalet, overlooking a valley. I was surprised that there are only four chalets but was delighted how pleasant ours was.
To my surprise it rained quite hard during the night.
Day 34 – Eco Caracal 4×4 Trail in the Namaqua National Park – 162 kms
The Eco Caracal 4×4 Trail is 176kms long and passes through both the mountains and the coastal section of the Namaqua National Park and also uses public roads. The trail is poorly marked, and it is essential to buy the Trail Booklet from the Park Office. We stopped to look at the abandoned settlement of Kookfontein.
One can avoid the mountain section but that would significantly diminish the experience. The climb up the mountain is steep but largely without big drops on the side of the track. I was pulling the trailer so needed to go into first gear, low range about ten times to reach the summit. I loved it.
The track then left the Park in the Kamiesberg uplands and joined the gravel road from Springbok to Hondeklip Bay. Shortly afterwards we descended the Wildeperdehoek Pass which was beautiful but certainly had steep drops off the edge of the road with no protection.
We passed through a deserted settlement and wandered through family graves.
About 15km before Hondeklip we entered the Coastal Section of the Namaqua National Park. We were told to deflate our tyres to 0.8 Bar, to keep momentum through soft sand and not to take the trailer to the Spoeg River Caves. In 2008 this coastal section was made available for National Park purposes by De Beers Consolidated Mines.
A few kilometres from the gate we stopped for lunch near a dam and were watched warily by a few springbok and ostriches.
We unhooked the trailer at the junction to the Spoeg River Caves. Two kilometres down the track our way was blocked by a Land Cruiser. Graham and Rose from Kalk Bay in Cape Town had become fearful that the sand was too deep and having decided to return to the main road, had tried to cross to a second track but had dug into the sand with their middle caught on the stump of a tree. They had been there for half an hour when we arrived. I backed up behind them, connected a rope and pulled the Cruiser out. Well done to my lowly Fortuner.
Graham and Rose headed back to the road, and we went on to explore the impressive Spoeg River Caves.
We reconnected the trailer and kept up momentum through 500 metres of the Bitterrivier Dune Field of low-level dunes and soft sand.
At eight attractive places along the coast four campsites have been created at each place. We had booked a site at Varswater and were the only campers there. There are two long drop toilets and a 1.5 metre high, 3 metre diameter circular wall at each campsite, with a fire pit in the centre. These latter constructions are a necessary protection from the never-ending wind. At Annie’s instigation we decided to sleep on our camp beds in the enclosed circle. We erected one tent as an insurance against rain.
We walked along the beach. This is a spectacular location and a perfect place for the last night of our trip.
I fell asleep marvelling at the milky way in the night sky. I woke at 02h00 to find my sleeping bag damp from sea spray but managed to get through the night without getting wet.
Day 35 – To Cape Town – 528 kms
We took our time packing up as we enjoyed our environment. The three kilometre wide low-level dunes and soft sand had to be crossed before we got to the Groenrivier Mond gate. I kept up momentum and we had no difficulty. We inflated our tyres at the gate and hit the road.
Once we turned onto the N7 main road the going was easy and fast. We stopped for lunch at Kardoesie, just south of Citrusdal and arrived in Cape Town at 16h00 on Friday 25th November 2022.
I have never had so many mechanical difficulties on a trip, so that spoiled some of the trip as we did not get to the four wilderness camps in the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park, and we did not get to the Richtersveld. However, we did get to Xakanaxa and Third Bridge which I had not been to before. I particularly enjoyed the boat trip at Xakanaxa. The lions mating and the other lions chased by an elephant were highlights in Savuti. Despite the anxious moments I loved being in the Namib Desert. I enjoyed returning to the Victoria Falls, Sossussvlei and the Fish River Canyon. The Varswater campsite on the beach in the Namaqua National Park was a delight. I prefer travelling with others and this trip I was delighted to have Annie as a companion for the full trip and Nick for the first eight days and Tibby in the Namib Desert. Thank you to them.
Description of my vehicle and equipment
I drive a three litre, diesel 2010 Toyota Fortuner which I bought in 2014 with 76,000 km on the clock. At the end of this trip, it had done 205,000 km. I have added the following: ARB front bull bars, Fortuner bash plate, Safari snorkel, enhanced coils, springs and shock absorbers, secondary battery system, 72 litre built in extra diesel tank, Rockshockerz purpose built rear bumper and carriers for two spare wheels reduced now to one wheel carrier), Front Runner roof rack, a pull-out awning fixed to the roof rack, Front Runner stainless steel/aluminium camp table, two diesel jerry cans and a 60 litre Engel Combi fridge/freezer.
For when I get stuck, I carry a box of towing and snatch ropes, a high lift jack, two other jacks, an ARB portable compressor, two Desert escape sand tracks, a 9000-winch fixed to the front bumper and a spade.
The Echo 2 Trailer was bought in 2018 and did a return trip to Livingstone via Botswana in that year. I have taken it with me on trips but have hardly used it since. The reason to use the trailer is so that I can accommodate more than two people on the trip. There is not enough space in the Fortuner to carry four people, all their luggage and all the camping equipment that is needed. The trailer has two cubic metres of general storage, a kitchen compartment containing crockery, food and a two-plate gas stove, two gas containers, a 120-litre water tank, two diesel jerry cans and a bed on the roof with a tent that opens over the bed and extends to the side of the trailer.
Whenever I can, I stay in hotels or self-catering units, but if these are not available, I am ready to camp in relative luxury with an Oztent RV5 tent, camp bed, one sleeping bag for temperatures down to 7⁰C and another for temperatures below that, Oztent Goanna chairs, a selection of pots, pans and cutlery, braai grid and a sixty-litre tank of fresh water.
I used Garmin InReach technology on this trip. Travelling alone in remote areas might be risky. Garmin has several hundred devices intended to help a wide range of sportsmen, including hikers, runners, boaters and overlanders, to monitor different aspects of their activity, often including the route that they follow. Many of these devices use the GPS satellites, just like the Garmin in your car, to track your route. Garmin developed the inReach system which allows one to communicate with others, using text messaging, through the Iridium Satellite network. The most important feature is a SOS function which sends a message to, a Garmin operated emergency centre in the USA, which then tries to exchange messages with the sender of the SOS and begin coordinating a rescue. They also have details of your emergency contacts who are advised that you have initiated a SOS signal. The inReach facility is integrated into some devices, particularly those used for hiking and marine activities. They also have a device called an inReach Mini which has minimum functionality (besides the satellite communication) and is cumbersome to use alone. It can, however, be Bluetooth paired to other devices, which makes it very powerful. I have both the inReach Mini and the Garmin Overlander. The latter is a very fancy GPS device providing all the normal Garmin vehicle routing and guiding facilities but also providing other information useful when off road. I have set my inReach mini to send my location (when on) every five minutes to my Garmin MapShare page and internally log my position every 30 seconds. The MapShare page is a website page which others can see, and which includes my current location (when my Mini was last on and out of a building) and my track using the locations sent every five minutes. In an emergency this will be enough for rescuers to find me. When I have access to the internet, I can sync my Mini with my MapShare page allowing the 30 second logs to fill out the track of where I have been, thus providing a full record of my trip. To use the inReach facility one needs to subscribe to a Garmin satellite communication package which has three different levels from emergency use only to unlimited messages. (On all the plans there are unlimited SOS messages.) One must then choose between an annual plan, paid monthly, or a plan which is only activated for the months when needed. The cheapest emergency use monthly plan is £12.50 per month and the most expensive unlimited messages, occasional use plan is £65 per month. I used the latter plan for the period covering the period of my trip.
I travelled 6,475 km, consuming 1,031 litres, with an average consumption of 6.3 kms per litre. The total cost for diesel was £1,269 and the average cost per litre, in £pence, of diesel, in the countries I travelled in, was Botswana 117p, Namibia 118p and South Africa 133p.Back to the Travels in Africa index